Nandini Valsan is a writer and film maker who currently lives in Doha, Qatar. She is a travel enthusiast and an avid foodie; who believes every moment in life is a learning experience.


A Shelter of Memories

For around the first 20 years of my life, the only Kerala that I was aware of was the lush, yet soggy one that came to the fore during the monsoons. I never realized then that this was the only season in which the persistent heat and humidity of the State stepped aside for the welcome cool weather that accompanied the rains. Like many other NRI kids across the world, that was when we beat the summer heat of Cairo to travel to India for our annual vacation.

We spent a big part of those holidays at my father’s family home in Irinjalakuda, where a large pandal in front of the house had pride of place. Covered with a thatched roof and paved with concrete flooring, the pandal was a convenient place to spend those monsoon days, as it allowed us to be outdoors and yet, sheltered and dry

My grandfather, a renowned National Award winning math teacher, used to run a popular tutorial in this pandal after his retirement, and one of my earliest memories is of watching these classes take place, with so many students filling the benches. Though my grandfather passed away in 1980, the benches and even the blackboard were never removed, and instead, for three decades, served as archaic remnants of the vibrant educational fulcrum the place once was.

As a child, I found the frequent wet days highly annoying, as it meant we had to stay indoors and restricted our holidaying options drastically. I would either spend them curled up on a bed in my aunt’s corner room, reading my cousin’s worn out Enid Blyton book for the umpteenth time; or walking aimlessly around the house, in search of something to do or at least something to eat, to while the time away!

The pandal provided more contentment though. As the rain poured down, the droplets that fell off the roof’s dry coconut fronds would create a narrow shallow moat in the reddish soil around the perimeter, into which we would float our paper boats. As we grew older, we would sit on the benches and bring out our playing cards; have badminton matches in the benchless space towards the back; or play caroms, in which I would invariably get trounced by my brother. Entertainment options were highly limited after all, and such pastimes got the sluggish minutes to move a little faster.

Just like my father, whose feet would briskly swish-swish along that concrete floor during his cherished evening walk; my uncle, who ensured that the thatched roof was maintained and replaced every year; and my dear grandmother, who rarely ever stepped out of the house, but was updated on all the news in the locality and the world through the newspaper that she devoured daily while sitting on one corner of a bench there; the pandal is long gone, and now only a memory of an era gone by

My brother and I used to crib about having to spend our holidays every year in the same place, with so little to do, when all our friends were jetting off to more glamorous locations around the world. Funnily enough, those childhood peeves of “boring summers” have now become wistful yearnings of an exotic past that I wish I could enjoy all over again, but know that I never can.